Kerry in Rome for tense Netanyahu meeting

Talks come ahead of the publication of an international report expected to criticize Israeli settlement building

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US Secretary of State John Kerry left Washington on Saturday to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the publication of an international report expected to criticize Israeli settlement building.

Kerry was flying to Rome to meet the Israeli leader on Sunday and Monday. Some reports have suggested he will use the meeting to assess the possibility of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But US officials have been careful not to predict any breakthroughs and the meeting is likely to touch on the imminent release of a report by the Quartet, which is seeking to foster a "two-state" solution to the conflict.

This diplomatic group -- the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia -- is concerned that Palestinian violence and Israel's building on occupied land is pushing the prospect of peace further away.

This week, ahead of Kerry's trip, his spokesman John Kirby said: "There are plenty of issues coming up that merit Israel and the United States's discussion."

Kirby said the Quartet's report "will include recommendations that will help inform international discussions on the best way to advance a two-state solution."

The document will "largely" reflect the Quartet's previous statement in September last year, he added.

The September report cited Israel's "ongoing settlement activity and the high rate of demolition of Palestinian structures" as "dangerously imperiling the viability" of a two-state deal.

Washington, the traditional mediator in Middle East peace efforts, has not taken the lead in recent months, concerned that the situation is not promising and that another round of failed talks would only further embitter both parties.

But France has launched a diplomatic initiative to build international pressure on both sides.

The United States gave the French move a cool reception, but Kerry attended its inaugural meeting in Paris and has called on both sides to take "affirmative steps" to calm tempers and preserve the possibility of peace.

On the ground, however, the situation remains fraught and sporadic violence since October has killed at least 210 Palestinians, 32 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese.

Most of the Palestinians were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

On Thursday, in an address to the European Parliament, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused a group of Israeli rabbis of urging their government to poison Palestinian water supplies.

Netanyahu in turn furiously accused his opponent of resurrecting the ancient "blood libel" against Jews, a charge Abbas denies.

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